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South Carolina: Opposition Seeks to Bury “Fun Home”

By Emer Valdez, SIECUS Program Research Intern
 
The publically-funded College of Charleston has been the locus of a dispute over an optional  reading assignment involving a book whose lesbian author reflects on her father’s clandestine gay relationships. A conservative coalition has denounced the book and has used it as a pretext for the state legislature to cut funding to the school.
 
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, is a graphic novel written by Alison Bechdel, whose career was launched with the creation of her popular comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For. The book’s title derives from the broken sign for the funeral home (‘fun _ _ _ _ home’) of which her closeted father was the director. The College of Charleston assigned the book for its 2013 summer reading program for incoming freshmen. As with most college summer reading programs, the reading was not a requirement but was recommended to introduce new students to collegiate-level discussion.
 
Opposition began with Palmetto Family, whose mission and vision is “to transform the culture in South Carolina by reclaiming the values and virtues of marriage, the traditional family model, and sexual purity.”[1]  Palmetto Family began attacking the book (and the College) in the summer of 2013, slowly building momentum for a legislative assault on publically-funded college reading programs.
 
The South Carolina House budget-writing committee docked the College $52,000 (the estimated cost of its summer reading program) as punishment for selecting Bechdel’s book. The vote was 13 to 10 in favor of the sanctions.
 
State Representative Garry Smith, a Republican from Simpsonville, led the sanctions push, arguing that Fun Home “goes beyond the pale of academic debate” and that the College was “promoting the gay and lesbian lifestyle.”[2] Smith warned that the book “could be considered pornography.”[3] In defense of the College, State Representative Gilda Cobb-Hunter, a Democrat from Orangeburg said that legislators “need to stop running a dictatorship forcing people to believe what we believe. This is a wide, wide world.”[4]
 
Professor Charles Korey of the College expressed concern about the House budget committee’s action, noting that the College had “recognized that the book might be controversial for a few readers, but the book asks important questions about family, identity, and the transition to adulthood.”[5]
 
The College’s 2014 summer reading selection has not been chosen, so the proposed budget cuts could ultimately impact summer reading opportunities regardless of the content.  The House approved the budget committee’s cuts on March 10, 2014 but College President George Benson was unfazed by conservative legislators’ threats: "Our students are adults, and we will treat them as such. Faculty, not politicians, ultimately must decide what textbooks are selected and how those materials are taught."[6]
 
Bechdel’s publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, released a statement from the author, observing that “It’s sad and absurd that the College of Charleston is facing a funding cut for teaching my book – a book which is after all about the toll that this sort of small-mindedness takes on people’s lives.”[7]
 
 

[1] “A Shocking Summer Reading Assignment,” Palmetto Family website, July 24th, 2013, accessed March 5, 2014 at http://www.palmettofamilylife.com/2013/07/a-shocking-summer-reading-assignemnt/.
 
[2] Jeremy Borden, “College of Charleston responds to 'Fun Home' book controversy,” PostAndCourier.com, February 20, 2014, accessed March 5, 2014 at http://www.postandcourier.com/article/20140220/PC1603/140229919/1031/college-of-charleston-responds-to-fun-home-book-controversy.
 
[3] Maren Williams,  “South Carolina Legislator Tries to Punish College for Fun Home Selection,” Comic Book Legal Defense Fund website, February 21, 2014, accessed March 5, 2014 at http://cbldf.org/2014/02/south-carolina-legislator-tries-to-punish-college-for-fun-home-selection/.
 
[4] Andrew Shain, “SC colleges under fire about book, course choices,” TheState.com, February 19, 2014, accessed March 5, 2014 at http://www.thestate.com/2014/02/19/3278857/sc-colleges-under-fire-about-book.html.
 
[5] Borden, “College of Charleston responds...”
 
[6] Seanna Adcox, “SC House refuses to restore cuts to College of Charleston, USC Upstate for book selections” March 10, 2014, accessed March 11, 2014 at http://www.therepublic.com/view/story/e1abf9f56db347fa90fbf5e2b50e053b/SC-XGR--SC-Budget.
 
[7] Rachel Deahl, “Bechdel Reacts to ‘Fun Home’ Controversy in So. Carolina,” Publishers’ Weekly, February 26, 2014, accessed March 11, 2014 at http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/comics/article/61201-bechdel-reacts-to-fun-home-controversy-in-so-carolina.html.

 

  

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